Testimony of Ryllie Danylko
Policy Analyst, DC Action
Committee on Recreation, Libraries & Youth Affairs
Performance Oversight Hearing for Department of Parks & Recreation
February 23, 2023
Good morning, Chairman White and members of the Committee on Recreation, Libraries & Youth Affairs. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Ryllie Danylko and I am a policy analyst with DC Action, home of the DC Out-of-School Time Coalition. DC Action uses research, data, and a racial equity lens to break down barriers that stand in the way of all kids reaching their full potential. Our collaborative advocacy initiatives bring the power of young people and all residents to raise their voices to create change. I am testifying today about the role of the Department of Parks & Recreation in providing high-quality, affordable out-of-school time (OST) opportunities for DC’s young people, and ways that DPR can improve its performance to increase equitable access to afterschool and summer activities. DPR is an important part of DC’s OST landscape, providing a variety of fun and constructive activities for young people to spend their free time.
The challenges facing youth today – from mental health challenges, to the lingering effects of interrupted learning on academic progress, to the ongoing threat of gun violence in their neighborhoods – must be addressed with multi-tiered solutions that meet the scale of these issues. One key part of this is robust public investments in OST opportunities. The just-announced $3 million Recreation for All community grant competitions are an exciting step toward expanding access to enriching, in-demand afterschool and summer programs to more youth. Community-based organizations are currently the largest providers of OST activities for DC youth, and their strong relationships with the communities they serve make them well-equipped to receive this funding to help meet the significant unmet demand for OST programming. DPR must ensure that these new funds are distributed equitably, efficiently, and transparently to organizations with a proven record of providing high-quality programs and those that are trusted by the communities they aim to serve. The agency should provide ongoing updates about which organizations are selected to receive the grant money, how they are spending it, and data about the young people who benefit from grantees’ programs.
DPR must also ensure that new and existing funding is used to ensure all families can participate in the OST offerings. We know that cost and availability of OST opportunities are just two of several barriers that families face to participation, and another common challenge is program location and transportation. Many parents have to travel long distances in order to access desired programs. DC PAVE parents, especially those East of the River, have reported having to drive nearly an hour one-way just to bring their children to programs that interest them that aren’t available near them. Some have had to pass on these programs because of the distance. In PAVE’s Fall Back to School survey, 17% of parents identified transportation as a reason they did not enroll their children in an OST program and 20% did not enroll because they could not find a program that interested their child. DPR should work to ensure all of their program offerings are available in each of the 8 wards, and to scale up programming in neighborhoods with high concentrations of youth, so that families and students do not have to miss out on programs simply due to lack of transportation.
Another common barrier parents face is the process of finding and enrolling children in desired programs. The competitive, first-come, first-served registration process often disadvantages children and youth who need programming the most. Parents who are working during the sign-up process and those with limited Internet access struggle to get spots in affordable programs that interest their children. One way to address this is to create a lottery system that provides preferences to students with the greatest needs (i.e based on income-level, families with students with disabilities) similar to the MySchoolDC lottery system, to ensure that youth who would benefit most from the safe, supportive environments that OST programs provide, can more easily access them.
With additional funding flowing into DPR to provide afterschool and summer programming, there must also be more publicly available data about the reach and impact of DPR programs. As part of our research and analysis of OST opportunities, DC Action is interested in receiving data from DPR about program participants, including disaggregated demographic information about participants’ race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and whether they have special needs, along with any data DPR collects to demonstrate the impact of its programs on youth outcomes. This data is crucial to evaluate the performance of DPR as a source of affordable, accessible OST opportunities, especially for populations that have been systemically excluded from afterschool and summer programs because of their race, family’s income, or need for accommodations. If DPR does collect this data, we ask the agency to share it with DC Action. If it does not collect this data, we strongly encourage the agency to begin collecting it in the next fiscal year and release it publicly.
Thank you for your time and consideration. If you have any questions I can be reached at the contact information below.